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Matthew 11:11-15 - The Greatness of Smallness

Jesus said to the crowds: "Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear."

This passage presents John the Baptist as the great peak of the Old Testament's ascent towards salvation and, at the same time, it conveys that the following stage of that journey, the New Testament, is infinitely greater than all that he stands for. Thus, “the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John the Baptist is great and small at the same time. Luke makes that paradox even more apparent in his account of today's scene. There Jesus says: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). In fact, sometimes becoming small is the way to greatness. John knew that so well that he made it his objective to become small. As he famously put it in yet another account: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

Tomorrow is the feast of another man called John. He, St. John of the Cross, could also be described with the attributes of great and small. He stands as one of the greatest masters of Christian Spirituality and yet, he could not have claimed such soaring spiritual heights if not for undergoing the kinds of trials in life which make one feel so very small. In fact, the spiritual night, a phenomenon which he famously describes in his works, is the experience of human nothingness in the face of human fulfilment.

Small is the New Great

Human fulfilment consists in holiness. Human salvation consists in Christ's coming. Human vocation consists in an ongoing ascend. And yet, holiness only is reached through the experience of one's human limitations. Salvation is only reached together with embracing the Cross. One's vocation is not simply ascending the career ladder but giving oneself away in love. The logic of the New Testament, therefore, offers a whole new definition of greatness.

Jesus is the greatest among men. And yet He chose to be born in the poverty of Bethlehem. He wants to teach you the taste of true greatness and let grow in you the appreciation for the power of smallness. Be it in your spiritual life, your daily affairs, or your vocation: Allow Him to lead you on the ascending path to fulfilment as a “child of heaven,” an ascent which may appear as a descent in the eyes of men.

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